WATCH: Portfolio award is ‘really, really special’ to John Hays

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“TO be recognised by the people of the city where you were born is really, really special.”

John Hays is no stranger to awards in a remarkable career which has seen him go from the backroom of his mum’s childrenswear shop in Seaham to become Sunderland City Centre’s biggest employer.

But there was no hiding his pride and delight as he collected the Lifetime Achievement Award at Thursday night’s Sunderland Echo Portfolio Business Awards presentation ceremony (watch his rousing speech above).

Picking up his trophy at the Stadium of Light was a particular thrill for John, a life-long Sunderland fan and member of the Drumaville Consortium, who served as Niall Quinn’s vice-chairman.

“The atmosphere in this room has been inspirational,” he said.

“I am obviously very, very proud to get this award, but everybody in this room should be proud.

“It is really exciting to me that the entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well in Sunderland.

“I was born here, I have always worked here and I am very, very proud of the city.”

John graduated from Oxford and, after gaining an MBA from Manchester, began his career as a merchant banker in the City of London.

He quickly realised the City was not the place for him and decided to start his own business, opting to become a travel agent rather than an undertaker.

John’s first office in 1980 was in the back of his mother’s childrenswear shop, with a garden trellis dividing the clothes from the travel agency.

Today, Hays Travel employs more than 1,000 people, including 406 at its Sunderland headquarters in Vine Place, and is targeting a turnover of £1billion in the next five years.

The UK’s largest third-party agent for market leaders Thomson and Thomas Cook holidays, Hays Travel also has its own tour operator division, Hays Far Away, providing long-haul breaks.

“John Hays has contributed a huge amount to the city in which he was born and grew up,” the commendation said. “He is totally committed to adding value in his business by treating people well.

“John Hays’s impressive achievements have brought him many prestigious national awards from the travel industry.

“This award from his home town brings together and recognises two key priorities of John’s life – business success and Sunderland success.”

l Don’t miss our Portfolio2014 Business Awards supplement on Wednesday.